TFC star Altidore returns with a goal but the Reds can’t hold on for the win

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It was not the fairy-tale ending Toronto FC was hoping for.


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But a point is a point and in this crazy, chaotic season, TFC will take it.

TFC forward Jozy Altidore, playing in his first game since May 29, set the fans at BMO Field alight when he scored via a header in the 72nd minute of Saturday night’s match against Orlando City, just six minutes after being substituted into the game for starter Dom Dwyer.

Justin Morrow left-footed a perfect cross to TFC’s second all-time leading scorer who headed it high into the Orlando goal from very close range for the 1-0 lead. After the goal, Altidore acknowledged the crowd and kissed the TFC logo on his jersey.

The moment couldn’t have been any more emotional.

Altidore was sent away to train on his own after he had words with then-TFC head coach Chris Armas during a game on May 29, a 2-1 loss to Columbus. After Armas was replaced by interim-coach Javier Perez, Altidore was asked to come back and Saturday marked his first game with the Reds since the altercation.


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“It’s amazing,” Altidore said of scoring and playing in front of a home crowd for the first time in nearly a year.

“And I think you saw in (my) celebration that it’s a big relief to be home.”

However, the excitement from Altidore’s goal was short lived. After TFC took the lead, Orlando was awarded a penalty kick when midfielder Auro made a defensive mistake attempting to get the ball back to goalkeeper Alex Bono and Bono then fouled a charging Benji Michel in the box. On the subsequent penalty kick, Lions star Nani beat Bono despite the Toronto ’keeper getting his left arm on the ball.

“We know the referee don’t help us too much because we are from another country, we are from Canada,” said TFC star Alejandro Pozuelo when asked about the play.


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The 1-1 draw marked TFC’s first game back at BMO Field since Sept.1.

The homecoming was played in front of 7,000 fans, made up with front-line health care workers, first responders and season ticket holders. The game also represented Yeferson Soteldo’s first game in Toronto since signing with the club in April and the Venezuelan was sensational, sending a perfect pass to Morrow on Altidore’s goal.

Perez was able to start Soteldo with fellow dynamic Designated Player Pozuelo for the second game in a row and the two attacking magicians produced numerous scoring chances. The future of TFC’s attack with those two on the pitch looks bright indeed. In a Zoom call last week, Altidore said Soteldo was going to set MLS on fire. That certainly appears to be possible, particularly if he continues to build on his on-field relationship with Pozuelo, the defending MLS MVP.


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“He has something special, we have a good relationship, he’s Latin, he speaks Spanish, we are all day together training on the pitch, inside, so we have good relationship and you see in the game, we have good connection,” said Pozuelo, who believes TFC can now make a charge up the standings. “We have good quality, we have good players and now it’s time to look forward. Yeferson gives us something different in attack, he’s good one on one and creates space.”

When Altidore came on in the 64th minute, his appearance marked the first time this season TFC had its three DP’s on the field at the same time.

Armas was fired after TFC’s 7-1 loss to D.C. United on July 3 — Toronto’s sixth straight loss — and Perez was named the interim head coach the next day. Under Perez, the Reds won their next game post-Armas, on July 7, against first-place New England, 3-2. Sadly for Armas, the New York native never got to coach the Reds with more than one DP on the pitch and never did get the chance to actually coach a game in Toronto. The odds were stacked against him from the start. To his credit, Perez has the Reds playing energetic, organized football, particularly on defence. Heading into Saturday’s match, TFC had given up a MLS-most 29 goals. With 17 goals for, the Reds have a league-worst minus 13 goal differential. But against Orlando, the Reds backline was decent.


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TFC were without five players to international duty at the Concacaf Gold Cup – Richie Laryea, Jonathan Osorio and Ayo Akinola (Canada), Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica) and Eriq Zavaleta (El Salvador). Goalkeeper Quentin Westberg is out with an injured finger while midfielder Nick DeLeon is in quarantine. The Lions were without star centre-forward Daryl Dike, who is representing the U.S. at the Gold Cup.

The two sides played to a 0-0 draw in the first half, though TFC held the edge in real chances. Soteldo’s creativity down the left side, shifty and cutting around the Lions’ defence, was something to behold.

In the 35th minute, Soteldo stole the ball in TFC’s end, charged up the middle of the field, danced around two or three Orlando players, and set up Dwyer for a great chance, but the veteran forward couldn’t get the shot off. Soteldo and Pozuelo were brought down or interfered with in the box a number of times in the first half but didn’t get a favourable call from referee Marcos de Oliveira — resulting in Pozuelo’s ire after the game.

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With two minutes left in the opening 45 minutes, Soteldo picked up the ball to the left side of the Orlando goal and went around Orlando full back Kyle Smith, one of the better defenders in MLS, like he was a pylon, but couldn’t find an open teammate with a pass into the box.

Veteran TFC midfielders Auro, despite his defensive mistake, Michael Bradley and Mark Delgado, especially, were solid in the match as the Reds doubled down on their defensive play. Chris Mavinga, back from injury, was also solid for the Reds.

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